Phosphorylation of EEA1 by p38 MAP kinase regulates mu opioid receptor endocytosis

EMBO J. 2005 Sep 21;24(18):3235-46. doi: 10.1038/sj.emboj.7600799. Epub 2005 Sep 1.


Morphine analgesic properties and side effects such as tolerance are mediated by the mu opioid receptor (MOR) whose endocytosis is considered of primary importance for opioid pharmacological effects. Here, we show that p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) activation is required for MOR endocytosis and sufficient to trigger its constitutive internalization in the absence of agonist. Further studies established a functional link between p38 MAPK and the small GTPase Rab5, a key regulator of endocytosis. Expression of an activated mutant of Rab5 stimulated endocytosis of MOR ligand-independently in wild-type but not in p38alpha-/- cells. We found that p38alpha can phosphorylate the Rab5 effectors EEA1 and Rabenosyn-5 on Thr-1392 and Ser-215, respectively, and these phosphorylation events regulate the recruitment of EEA1 and Rabenosyn-5 to membranes. Moreover, phosphomimetic mutation of Thr-1392 in EEA1 can bypass the requirement for p38alpha in MOR endocytosis. Our results highlight a novel mechanism whereby p38 MAPK regulates receptor endocytosis under physiological conditions via phosphorylation of Rab5 effectors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Membrane / genetics
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Endocytosis*
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Humans
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein Binding
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / metabolism*
  • Vesicular Transport Proteins
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism*
  • rab5 GTP-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • rab5 GTP-Binding Proteins / metabolism


  • Membrane Proteins
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu
  • Vesicular Transport Proteins
  • early endosome antigen 1
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • rab5 GTP-Binding Proteins